Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by Allen French
The Story of Rolf and the Viking's Bow by  Allen French

Front Matter

[Front Cover]



[Title Page]

[Copyright Page]



F ROM thirty to sixty years ago appeared the greater number of the English translations of the Icelandic sagas. Since then the reading of these heroic tales has so completely gone out of style that their names are rarely mentioned in schools or even colleges. What boy feels his blood stir at the mention of Grettir? How many lovers of good reading know that the most human of all epics lie untouched on the shelves of the public libraries? The wisdom of Njal, the chivalry of Gunnar, the villany of Mord, the manhood of Kari, the savagery of Viga-Glum, the craft of Snorri, and the fine qualities of Biarni, of Biorn, of Skarphedinn, of Illugi, of Kolskegg, of Hrut, of Blundketil—all these are forgotten in the curious turn of taste which has made the stories of a wonderful people almost a lost literature.

For the Icelanders were a wonderful people. To escape the tyranny of kings they settled a new land, and there built up the laws and customs in which we see the promise of modern civilization. Few early peoples had such a body of laws; few developed such manhood. No better pictures of a law-abiding, rural, and yet valiant race have ever been made than in the tales which the Icelanders had the skill to weave about their heroes, those men who, at home in their island, or so far abroad as Constantinople, made the name of Icelander respected.

We read of these men and this people in stories which, somewhat too "old" for boys and girls, reveal the laws, customs, habits of a thousand years ago. The Njal's Saga, the Grettir's Saga, the Ere- Dwellers' Saga, and the Gisli's Saga are perhaps the greatest of those which have been translated. They are reinforced by such shorter pieces as Hen Thorir's Saga, and the Stories of the Banded Men, the Heath-Slayings, Hraffnkell Frey's Priest, and Howard the Halt. The spirit of those days is particularly well given in that wonderful fragment of Thorstein Staffsmitten which (not being part of any complete saga) has been drawn upon for the closing incidents of the present story. Many other such incidents are preserved, a reference to one of which (in a footnote to—I think—the Ere-Dwellers' Saga) gave the suggestion for the main plot of this book. At the same time, in contemporary writings, we may read of the life of other divisions of the Scandinavian race; the story nearest to this book is the Orkneyingers' Saga.

The main interest of all these tales is the same: they tell of real men and women in real circumstances, and show them human in spite of the legends which have grown about them. The sagas reveal the characteristics of our branch of the Aryan race, especially the personal courage which is so superior to that of the Greek and Latin races, and which makes the Teutonic epics (whether the Niebelungen Lied, the Morte Darthur, or the Njala) much more inspiring than the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid.

The prominence of law in almost every one of the Icelandic sagas has been preserved in the following story; and the conditions of life, whether at home or abroad, have been described as closely as was possible within the limits of the simple narrative form which the sagas customarily employed.



May, 1904.

[Contents Page 1 of 2]

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